Opinion Forum

Bob Hydrick: Where public safety rubber meets budget road

I have been following the ongoing discussions about the mayor's proposal to transfer funding for certain positions from the Marshal's and Sheriff's departments to the Columbus Police Department with more than a usual amount of interest.

Let me say at the beginning that I am one-hundred and ten percent on the mayor's side in this matter. My support is not based on any dislike for the marshal or the sheriff for, as far as I know, they are both good men and doing their best to serve the public.

Nor is it out of any particular closeness to the mayor. My support is based on the fact that the proposed actions will bring the duties performed by these departments more in line with the original intent of those of us who wrote the Charter of the Consolidated Government, and the more than 70 percent of the voters who adopted it in the spring of 1970.

A little history lesson will help explain the reasoning behind the thinking of the charter writers. In 1969, the year before the charter was adopted and the Consolidated Government came into existence, the city of Columbus annexed most of the developed areas of Muscogee County. This was done in anticipation of the 1970 census in order to boost the city's population, which would, in turn, qualify the city for more federal money from programs that were funded on a per capita basis.

Before this annexation we had both a City and a County Police Department. With the annexation, the County Police Department became superfluous and was disbanded. The sheriff, then Jack Rutledge, agreed to take over the police duties in the unincorporated area of the county.

When the charter writers began to work on the section of the Charter that dealt with Public Safety, the sheriff appeared before us and said that he didn't want policing duties, and to turn them over to CPD. All he wanted to do was to serve the courts and keep the jail. As so the charter was written with that division of duties in mind.

The Marshal's Office was an entirely different matter. The consensus on the commission was to combine the Marshal's Office with the Sheriff's Department and be done with it. But the local attorneys who handled cases in the lower courts objected and wanted to keep the Marshal's Office because the marshal charged less to serve papers than the sheriff did. So we acquiesced, and that it is the only reason that the Marshal's Office exists today. So, with that history in mind, I hope that you can understand why I am one hundred and ten percent behind the mayor on this issue. She is doing the right thing by bringing these departments back in line with the duties envisioned for them in the Charter.

And I don't really see what all the fuss is about, other than turf-defending. The personnel involved are not going to lose their jobs, the funding for their positions is simply being transferred into a department whose mission is more in line with the duties they are currently performing.

Some have said that it will reduce the number of law enforcement personnel on the street. It will do nothing of the kind. If anything, it will put them in a better position to contribute more effectively to reducing and preventing crime as part of an agency that has that as its sole mission.

Some have said that this is "all about politics;" that the mayor is trying to get even with the sheriff and the marshal for supporting her opponent in the last election. I have no clue as to whether that is true or not, and in fact, as Hillary Clinton famously said, "What difference does it make?" If someone is trying to do the right thing, as the mayor is here, so what? What counts is what's best for the public.

And by the way, anyone who thinks you can keep politics completely out of governing decisions is either naïve or like the police chief in the movie "Casablanca" who was "shocked, shocked" to find out gambling was going on in Rick's as he pocketed his winnings.

We all know, or at least should know, that this is a tough budget year for the Consolidated Government. On the surface these transfers might not save the government any money, but if they improve the effectiveness of the law enforcement efforts in our city, we will at least be getting better results for the money we pay in taxes and fees. And I am all in favor of that, since my home was burglarized in the recent past in spite of an alarm system and deadbolt locks.

If you think what I have shared with you makes sense, and the mayor is doing the right thing, please contact your member on Council and ask him or her to support the mayor on this.

Bob Hydrick, former Columbus mayor, was a member of the commission that created the original city charter, and also served on the most recent Charter Review Commission in 2011.